Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery
Passenger on the PearlAlgonquin Books for Young Readers
Trade Hardcover, 9781616201968
Paperback, 9781616205508
Kindle E-Book, $9.99, B00KNCWLNO
Ages 12 & up/Grades 7 & up, 176 pages
Includes more than 50 period photographs & illustrations
A Junior Library Guild Selection
Winner of the Carter G. Woodson Book Award
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Read Winifred’s essay about writing the book

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The page-turning, heart-wrenching true story of one young woman willing to risk her safety and even her life for a chance at freedom in the largest slave escape attempt in American history.

In 1848, Emily Edmonson, thirteen, along with five siblings and seventy other enslaved people, boarded the Pearl in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., in a bid to reach freedom. Within a day, the schooner was captured, and the six Edmonsons were sent to New Orleans to be sold. Emily and Mary were saved from the even crueler conditions when the threat of yellow fever forced their return to Virginia. They were eventually ransomed with the help of their parents and abolitionists, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, who later used them as models for characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Both girls went to Oberlin College, where Mary died of tuberculosis. Emily graduated and became a teacher at the first school in Washington, D.C., dedicated to the education of African American girls and young women–an idea so controversial that even Frederick Douglass advised against it. Emily also worked on behalf of abolition for the rest of her life.

Passenger on the Pearl illustrates a turbulent time in American history as seen through the daily lives of enslaved people; the often changing laws affecting them; the high cost of a failed attempt to reach liberty; the fate of all fourteen of the Edmonson children and their mother, Milly, whose goal to die a free woman shaped the lives of all her children; and the stories of the slave traders and abolitionists whose lives intersected with the Edmonsons’.


"This title is an in-depth historical narrative concerning several people involved in an attempted slave escape in 1848…Conkling narrates the tumultuous stories of Edmonson, her family, and the others involved, tracing their lives from their ill-fated jail escape to the slave auctions, the Deep South, and finally to freedom. Readers will discover how Edmonson came into contact with important figures in the antislavery movement, including Frederick Douglass, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Primary documents give an authentic voice to the text, including excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. Nineteenth-century plates, illustrations, photographic portraits, and posters enhance the text. Historical photographs of slaves and slave pens are particularly moving. Maps clearly outline the geography relevant to the narratives, and frequent text blocks separate contextual information from the primary narrative. This work covers information about slavery that is often not found in other volumes…Conkling’s work is intricate and detailed, and…this is a strong and well-sourced resource."—School Library Journal

"Clearly written, well-documented, and chock full of maps, sidebars, and reproductions of photographs and engravings, the fascinating volume covers a lot of history in a short space. Conkling uses the tools of a novelist to immerse readers in Emily’s experiences. A fine and harrowing true story behind an American classic."—Kirkus Reviews

"”Passenger on the Pearl is a great resource for teaching young readers about the tragedy of slavery, as experienced by a girl their own age."—Historical Novels Review

Passenger on the Pearl